“Political Violence is hardly a new phenomenon, however novel the public and media attention to certain of its forms makes it appear.” It is not singular in its scope as it is seen in multiple forms, perpetrators, victims and purposes. (ML. Weiss, ‘Introduction- the Politics of Violence: Modalities, frames and Functions’).
Kannur, which is known for its landscapes, beaches, forts and other tourist sites, is today discussed in the light of political violence. The district which lies in North Kerala is also known for its food varieties and rich culture. The land of ‘Chekavars’ (warrior section within the Thiyya community) is today notorious for political killings and other types of political violence. ‘Kudipaka’ (Vendetta) politics is the main discourse of this rare political structure. Ullekh N. P’s book, Kannur: Inside India’s Bloodiest Revenge Politics, ‘ throws some insights into the reasons why political violence is the main narrative of Kannur. Ullekh himself was born and brought up in Kannur belonging to a ‘party kudumbam’ (CPM following family) which helped him to bring in his experience and narratives of Kannur violence in this book.
The book was published in 2018, a time where heated discussion regarding the increase of political murders in Kerala that the ‘Sang Parivar’ or the RSS called as ‘Redrocity’, blaming the government in Kerala. Kannur discusses various reasons why Kannur became a hotbed of violence. A well-written work consisting of nine chapters, it connects the origin of this violence and its trajectory throughout the years using interview, personal experiences and narratives from different families as its methodology.
Different narratives from families of ‘rakthasakshikal’ and ‘balidanikal’ convery that there was no order to the violence; but rather, revenge was taken within days of loss of life from a particular party by the other. This has led to the killing of 108 people between 1991 and 2016, of which 45 were CPI (M) activists, 44 BJP- RSS workers, 15 Congressmen and 4 Muslim League followers according to the National Crime Records Bureau.. The very idea of ‘number ittu kollal’ ( killing by putting number) is visible in these murders.
Ullekh tries to explain the structure of violence in Kannur and nearby places. While the BJP and the RSS try to create a popular notion that Hindu genocide is taking place in Kerala, especially in Kannur, the book suggests that this is not the case as every political party has engaged in violence at some point in time. Soon after Independence, it was the Congress who started to attack the CPM, which later transformed into the fight between the RSS and the CPM. In contrast to this, the RSS opines that the CPM is trying to attack RSS workers the way Congress used to attack the CPM. Kannur points out earlier that the CPM had this view that the Congress attacked the CPM the way Colonialists used to attack the Congress.
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Besides looking at the reasons for increasing violence, the book also focuses on the history of the political atmosphere in Kannur. The rise of Communism and its spread was during a period when there was continuous discrimination on the basis of caste and class, atrocities towards women was high, and no justice existed in the society. Even though they were considered as troublemakers, they were making trouble in a manner which can be justified. The Peasant movements under the leadership of the Communist leaders, which took place in Morazha or other movements which took place in other parts like Kayyur, Karivellur, and Kavumbai, were all based on the injustices faced by the working class. Kannur exemplifies this militant peasant and other working class movements as a reason for the later spread of violence.
The training in ‘Kalari-Payattu’, a martial art form that is an integral part of the Malabar Coast especially in Kannur, is suggested in the book as one reason for the spread of violence. This was an activity learned by many to resist attack, which later became a tool to attack opponents. Historically the ‘Chekavars’ (present day Thiyya Community who are OBCs and trace their lineage from the Chekavars), who were the warriors in the past, used to fight for their kings, which made those who won warrior heroes. . This very nature is even visible today when martyrdom is celebrated. The most interesting fact is that the ones who kill and get killed are mainly from the same caste background, the ‘Thiyyas’.
Both the RSS and the CPM were banned soon after Independence in 1948 by the government, for the killing of Mahatma Gandhi by the RSS and the Calcutta thesis by the CPM. The book points out that after the removal of the ban, it was necessary for both parties to polarise people and increase their strength. In Kannur and nearby places the meetings and discussions by the CPM were a nuisance for the RSS and vice versa. This led to the increase of strife between them and later to political killings.
The rise of leaders like the present CM Pinarayi Vijayan was during this period symbolised an arrogant masculinity. Kannur discusses how Pinarayi Vijayan hated the Sangh Parivar and simultaneously how the Sangh wanted to attack the young brigade led by Mr. Vijayan. The coming of MV Raghavan (who later created his own party, the CMP) and later of P. Jayarajan,, M.V. Jayarajan, and E.P. Jayarajan was part of the Communist party’s structural formation to resist the attacks of the RSS. The most violent form is visible only after the 1980s, because during the period of AK Gopalan, Krishna Pillai and other stalwarts, the basic agenda was to ensure justice in an unjust society. It was post-1980s that talking about need of attacking the other became public. Glorification of violence is visible during this period.
Kannur interestingly conveys that there are also people who believe that the microforms of the people killed in the violence exist in the atmosphere and unless and until the society becomes spiritually sound, this evil is going to haunt Kannur. The road ahead is also not smooth in the case of Kannur, because even after many peace talks, there is no decrease in political killings. A better understanding of modern day realities like economic growth and focus on higher education must be given importance rather than sticking to the age old political vendetta.
In his book, Ullekh searches for all possible reasons for why this pattern of violence plagues Kannur. A well written book, as the literature available on Kannur violence is limited, Kannur’- Inside India’s Bloodiest Revenge Politics, gives opportunity to a researcher and a normal reader space to explore more about Kannur and its political structure. The book is formulated based on references majorly from left-leaning ideas and it also failed to discuss in detail other political killings of the members of the Muslim League and other political parties, which are limitations in this book. However, Ullekh had tried to be as objective and diplomatic as possible despite coming from a CPM-based family.